With racism in football on the rise again, chairman of the Kick It Out campaign is ready to quit over game’s collective failure to show moral strength

Evening Standard

It is only as we finish speaking and Herman Ouseley puts on his overcoat to brave the icy winds swirling round Marble Arch that he drops his bombshell.

The chairman of Kick It Out, football’s anti-racist pressure group, is planning to quit. “I may not be around. It could be a matter of days. It is as close as that.”

His statement has not come as a complete surprise but, with racism in football back in the headlines, Lord Ouseley starkly spelled out why he is at the end of his tether.

He says: “I believe there has been a collective failure on the part of people running the game. They have to come forward very soon with a plan to show that what happened in the last year will not happen again.

“We need to see some dynamic leadership from David Bernstein [Football Association], Richard Scudamore [Premier League] and Gordon Taylor [Professional Footballers’ Association].

“These are good, committed people but they need to recognise that we’re now in a new climate. Vile chanting and abusive behaviour is out there and we are in very dangerous times with the increase of right-wing activity and intolerance.”

Then, drawing a chilling parallel with the 1970s, another period of economic austerity, he says: “Then the National Front organised outside and inside football. Now we have evidence of extreme organisations, the English Defence League and other fringe groups, that want to get a toehold back into football. They are trying to penetrate back into football.

“When people are unemployed, have little income, you once again have the spectre of massive movements of migrants from Eastern Europe, more people sleeping on the streets, then scapegoating comes to the fore as a way of venting frustrations. We’ve got to be careful because football offers very fertile terrain where people go to get rid of their frustrations.”

Ouseley’s frustrations stem from what he calls the “many failures” of the FA, Chelsea and Liverpool over the racial abuse of first Patrice Evra by Luis Suarez and then of Anton Ferdinand by John Terry. “The problem is that people were allowed to influence the process in their own way and do damage,” he says. That damage he feels was done in the way Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish showed support for Suarez but also, he says: “We had an FA which wouldn’t take the [England] captaincy away from Terry.”

And Ouseley reveals: “I raised the matter with Bernstein on behalf of Kick It Out as soon as it happened. He said the FA’s position is that the manager appoints the captain. He has total responsibility for the playing side.

“We said, ‘But it is an honour to captain your country, an honour you bestow on someone who is the leader and sets the tone in football. If it’s an honour and a man is being accused, then that honour should be suspended. That is what normally happens. Why does football shy away from that?’

“But Bernstein said, ‘We have a contractual obligation of no interference with the role of the manager of the England team’.

“Eventually, they realised that England couldn’t go to the European Championship with this thing hanging over them.”

Terry, having been charged by police in December last year, was stripped of the captaincy on February 3, a move that brought about manager Fabio Capello’s resignation soon after.

The defender was cleared by Westminster Magistrates’ Court in July but, having been charged by the FA, he quit the England team on the eve of his hearing in September. He was found guilty of using racially abusive language, banned for four matches and fined £220,000 but Ouseley is critical of the timescale.

Bernstein insists the FA were told to wait until after criminal proceedings but Ouseley says: “The FA dragged out the Terry case for a year. There was no acknowledgement of the damage being done. That damage has to be recognised and it has to be made clear how it won’t happen again.”

Indeed, Ouseley goes so far as to argue that the past year showed that “football lacks morality”. That remark is particularly directed at Chelsea. Soon after the Terry incident, the then Blues manager, Andre Villas-Boas, came out strongly in support of his player, proclaiming he was still their man.

Ouseley discloses: “I raised with Bruce Buck [chairman] and Ron Gourlay [chief executive] that the manager was prejudicing proceedings by forming a view before the matter was properly considered. Then things went quieter. My view is that football as a whole needs to show a greater sense of morality. You have a responsibility to the game and that’s where it lacks leadership.”

Ouseley received some 350 abusive emails from Liverpool fans when he criticised Dalglish over his attitude to the Suarez affair. But the 67-year-old, who came here as an 11-year-old from Guyana and suffered racial abuse and violence during his working career, wants to play down his own situation.

He adds: “When you’ve have bullets in the post and threats on your life and your family, abusive emails are not necessarily going to hurt you. As chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality I got excrement in the post.

“It was Anton Ferdinand who needed support. His mother was being threatened. His family were under siege. Roy Hodgson said he was leaving Rio out for footballing reasons but that did not prevent speculation that he ultimately lost his position in the England side because he could not play with Terry.

“Anton’s attitude was, ‘I’m the innocent one here.’ He told me, ‘If I had heard [what Terry had said], I would’ve probably got a red card.’”

Ferdinand did not specify what he would have done but Ouseley got the impression he would have thumped Terry, and says: “A lot of black players solve these things in the tunnel.”

Kick It Out has faced questions about its leadership, particularly from black players during the organisation’s week of action in October, but Ouseley says: “There is no crisis in the organisation. It was easy to throw the s**t at us. A lot of players are not well informed. Many of them felt we should have charged Suarez and Terry and taken action against them in October 2011.

“Well, hello guys, we’re not the regulatory body.”

He smiles wryly at the notion that players should now see his organisation, a charity funded by the football bodies, as having such power.

“Back in 1993, when Kick It Out was set up, everyone in football was in denial about racism. I went to the FA and they basically said, ‘Go away, there isn’t a problem.’ A representative of the Football League said, ‘You’re creating a problem.’”

In the decades since, Kick It Out has been so successful that, says Ouseley: “On the issue of race, people in football from club chairmen to the FA, even the PFA, think, well, these are issues for Kick It Out, they’re not for us.”

This, however, makes Ouseley worry. “To some extent English football has become complacent about race. It thinks the race thing is over.

Racism has not gone away. It’s much better managed. Fans coming to football now know you need to park your racism at the gate. When you leave you can probably pick it up and carry on.”

When I suggest that this is a bleak view, he says: “Racism is endemic. It’s institutionalised in all aspects of British society.”

This echoes Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, who has been saying that the FA are institutionally racist. While Ouseley does not actually say that the FA are an institutionally racist organisation, he and Herbert agree about Tottenham fans’ chanting the Y word.

“Whilst I understand Spurs fans are not using the term in an abusive way, they need to understand it is still causing pain to those who feel that the term is not acceptable. If black fans start going round using the N word it actually diminishes all efforts to tackle racism. Clubs have to set a standard of acceptable behaviour.”

Ouseley has talked to Tottenham but says: “Their response is that these are our fans and it’s not anti-Semitic chanting. I accept the difficulty that they have but I still maintain that, if they go to other grounds and sing that song, it generates a reaction that is worse. We have seen the rise of anti-Semitic chanting.”

Two weeks ago, some West Ham fans at White Hart Lane sang Adolf Hitler’s name and made hissing gas noises. Disgusted as Ouseley was, he says: “I can’t be surprised because nasty, vile chanting has never gone away.

“Ask Arsene Wenger what he puts up with when he goes to Manchester. Ask the Jewish community in Leeds what they put up with. These things are happening in many different parts of the country.”

And all this has a knock-on effect on players, many of whom, says Ouseley, are afraid to report racist abuse. This became evident two weeks ago at Ouseley’s own club, Millwall, when playing Charlton. As two players, Danny Haynes and Emmanuel Frimpong, were warming up, they were abused. “They didn’t complain because they didn’t think anything would happen,” says Ouseley. “They tweeted after the game. The matter’s been satisfactorily dealt with by both clubs because both have good leadership. But, even with Charlton having a black manager, the fact that their players don’t feel confident enough to complain is a very sad reflection of society.”

Ouseley does not suggest the answer to abuse is to thump anyone but advises: “If a player is abused while he is warming up, he must report it and have it dealt with there and then. Players could stop a game. They could just say, ‘We aren’t going to play if there’s abuse.’”

Sebastien Bassong followed Ouseley’s advice when he reported the racist gesture directed at him as Norwich played at Swansea last weekend. But, for Ouseley, his decision on whether to continue the fight against racism will depend on whether “the collective football community shows leadership on how we can move forward from the last year”.

Guyana to the House of Lords

Born: March 24, 1945 in Guyana

1993-2000: Chair and chief executive of the Commission for Racial Equality

1997: Kick It Out established after evolving from the Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football campaign

2001: Created life peer after being knighted in 1997 for services to local government


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